Sunday 16 August 2020

Movie Review: A Little Romance (1979)

A romantic comedy and drama, A Little Romance explores a wistful young love against scenic European backdrops.

In Paris, young teenager Daniel Michon (Thelonious Bernard) is a big fan of Hollywood movies. He meets American teenager Lauren King (Diane Lane), who is studying in Paris where her stepdad Richard (Arthur Hill) has a corporate position. Lauren's mother Kay (Sally Kellerman) is already eyeing a potential fourth husband and draping herself all over pretentious movie director George de Marco (David Dukes).

Daniel and Lauren start dating and fall in love. They meet dapper elderly gentleman Julius Edmund Santorin (Laurence Olivier), who claims to be a retired diplomat but is hiding his own secrets. Lauren is immediately fond of Julius, but Daniel is skeptical about the old man's tall stories. When Daniel falls foul of Kay and Richard announces he is relocating the family to Houston by the end of summer, Lauren and Daniel decide to make a run for Venice to kiss under the Bridge of Sighs, and they turn to Julius for help.

Director George Roy Hill takes a break from productions featuring superstars and instead tackles a small bittersweet romance about star-crossed young lovers. An adaptation of the 1977 novel E=mc2 Mon Amour by Patrick Cauvin, A Little Romance casts an alluring spell by mixing two smart teens, humour, some chasing around Europe, a couple of arguments, and a pursuit of forever idealism. A train ride and a bicycle race are thrown in for good measure.

Inspired by one of Julius' flowery life tales, an appropriate consummation target is set for 13 year old Lauren and 15 year old Daniel: a kiss at sunset in a gondola under a Venetian bridge, with church bells ringing. This is enough to trigger a cross-border adventure from France to Italy with a stop in Verona, where Romeo and Juliet receive a nod. Hill captures plenty of scenery but stays on the right side of travelogue territory.

Complementing the romance and humour, Lauren's parents introduce traces of drama and tension by frantically wondering where their daughter disappeared to and instigating a search, with doubts swirling around Julius' true intentions once his identity is revealed.

Diane Lane's screen debut is an immediate revelation, and she quickly establishes herself as the heart of the film with a mature performance. Thelonious Bernard in his one and only significant screen role struggles mightily against an uneven character, oscillating between mannerisms stolen from Hollywood movies, romantic sensibilities, a horrible wardrobe, and a bit of a mean streak and quick temper. The contrast between Lane's comfortable acting and Bernard's thrashing means she often looks older and acts calmer, and the chemistry between them is iffy at best.

Laurence Olivier is top billed, although his role is very much a secondary enabler. He is undoubtedly charming, but leans towards overplaying the elegant and well-traveled Monsieur with an unlikely story for every occasion.

A Little Romance celebrates first love as a dreamy adventure, where awkwardness and courage combine to take on the adult world - with a little help from a crafty friend.

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